10 GREAT DOWNTOWN PLACES TO EAT ALFRESCO

From waterfront eateries to rooftop hideaways, our city has many gorgeous views to take in while enjoying the nice weather and a meal. So take a break from life and head outside to some of our favorite outdoor oases.

The Edgewater: Lakefront Dining
 
 
© Bill Fritsch

© Bill Fritsch

 

LAKEFRONT

History, Repeated: The Edgewater’s stunning remodel has yielded wonderful dining options including The Boathouse, a two-level café that overlooks Lake Mendota. Regulars will still love the pier-side seating and a comfortable menu of casual fare like a fish fry, burger, lobster roll and more.

Amore on the Water: Another classic Madison mainstay, Paisan’s, was in the heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus for 35 years until the Italian eatery moved 10 years ago to an enviable downtown location with a Lake Monona view and expansive patio. Known for their Porta salad, pizzas and spicy cheese bread, they serve stepped-up pizza parlor fare just the way you like it.

Vintage Vantage: Sardine, located in Machinery Row (which was a farm implement dealership in the early 1900s), was fashioned to evoke a French brasserie fused with industrial chic, and serves cuisine with a decidedly French twist. Known for their seafood, excellent brunch, happy hour and great cocktails, those who sit out on the restaurant’s outdoor patio (or adjacent to the patio inside) are treated to a stunning Lake Monona vista.


 
Fresco: Rooftop Dining
 
 
© Chris Hynes Photography

© Chris Hynes Photography

 

ROOFTOP

Food and Art: Fresco is Italian for “cool” and “fresh” and Fresco’s flavors reflect their only-in-season menu which pulls from local offerings. The location is superb for before or after Overture Center shows (since it’s conveniently located above the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) and overlooks State Street and the Capitol building. The adjacent rooftop sculpture garden gives diners art to ponder and discuss, too.

Comfort With a View: On the opposite end of the spectrum, Brickhouse BBQ has stick-to-your-ribs (get it?) comfort food like, well, ribs, pulled pork, wings, four (!) types of mac and cheese and brisket. The lovely brick interior gives way to a beautiful third-floor rooftop patio strung with lights that offer an urban escape that seats 55. (There’s also a street-level back patio, too.)

Bird’s Eye View: Madison Blind, a seventh-floor rooftop restaurant and bar located in the Graduate Madison hotel, tips its hat to our hometown cuisine with cheese curds, a sausage plate and plenty of local craft brews. Don’t miss the cheekily decorated lobby and rooms, which pay homage to Wisconsin and to UW-Madison with vintage prints, outdoor gear and lots of plaid.

Little Europe: A Milwaukee transplant, Café Hollander is perfectly at home in the capital city with a great location at Hilldale Shopping Center, spacious two-floor digs and excellent rooftop patio. Garage doors open on both floors to let the outside in and Belgian-esque delights tempt diners with items like frites, Dutch croquettes, seafood and plenty of Belgian beer.


 
Great Dane: Dining on the Patio
 
 
© The Great Dane Pub and Brewery

© The Great Dane Pub and Brewery

 

SIDEWALK/
OUTSIDE

Worldly on the Square: Called a “fun-loving, international spin on pub food” by The Capital Times, Tavernakaya takes Japanese fare like sushi, sandwiches, rice, noodles and yakitori skewers of meats and vegetables and presents them in a laid-back, sleek atmosphere. Enjoy a specialty cocktail or saké on their sidewalk patio or inside with the garage doors pulled open to bring the outdoors in.

The Original: Sometimes you just need to get away from it all, and The Great Dane Pub & Brewery’s secluded, quiet patio (in the middle of the city!) is where to go. Tucked in between buildings, diners can sit on a covered patio area with lounge seating or below in the tranquil garden area. Of course the building’s history is fascinating in its own right (it’s the former Fess Hotel built in the 1850s and is the first brewery to operate in the city of Madison in 1994 since the closing of Fauerbach Brewery in 1966), but all you need to know is that you’ll get a great meal here and a cool, refreshing brew—made right on-site.

Sense of Place: For a true taste of the city (literally and figuratively), take a seat at Buck & Badger, a Northwoods-themed restaurant on State Street. Not only can you watch people walk by on the city’s most famous pedestrian thoroughfare but you get a Capitol view, too. Famous for their comfort food (sweet potato-crusted chicken sandwich, fish fry and burgers) plus 24 craft beers on tap, you can make a lazy Sunday out of hanging out here.